In my day, when the best dealers were round the table, the punters never got away with anything. The little disputes would be overlooked for the sake of a fast-moving game, but the big disputes we always had under control. We knew what had gone on, regardless of how much it looked as though we weren’t paying attention, and we’d argue our corner until the dispute was settled in our favour by the General Manager – Triad members notwithstanding.
However, there was one exception, a shrewd customer who invariably got the better of us in such scenarios. He was a former RAF engineer, known affectionately to us as Bell Fruit because he only had one arm. Those trying to paint a mental picture should think of a younger Ken Bates, but still someone getting on for 60. Like the infuriating Leeds chairman, Bell Fruit could be a cantankerous old get at times.
Whenever a big dispute occurred, he rarely resorted to screaming and shouting. Instead, presented the facts in an eloquent way that left you scratching your head with little room for manoeuvre. He always knew when he’d caught us off-guard and we always knew that referring the dispute to the General Manager would invariably result in embarrassment for the table.
I’m reminded of all this because Dave Jones reminds me of Bell Fruit. He’s nothing like Ken Bates, but he’s a wizard when it comes to presenting his case over disputes and making referees look stupid.
Take his post-match summary of the recent incident involving referee Rob Lewis at Crystal Palace, for example. Midway through the second half, Lewis awarded a penalty to the home side after Glenn Murray went down under a challenge from Mark Beevers. The Sheffield Wednesday players reacted furiously, persuading Lewis to consult with his assistant, upon which the referee reversed his decision and awarded Wednesday a goal-kick.
Problem solved, you might think. The referee got it wrong, but no harm done because he arrived at the right decision in the end. Well, not according to Jones. The Owls boss was irate afterwards because he believed the Eagles capitalised on the situation to bag what proved to be the winning goal soon afterwards.
In Jones’ own words: “He got it wrong, it was a big mistake. All it did was whip up the crowd. That incident was pivotal. It turned the whole game. After that, we couldn’t even make a challenge. I thought he was poor. We get in trouble for speaking out, but if you don’t, then they get away with it.”
Football is all about interpretation with Best Bets Today and when you look at the situation from Jones’ perspective, it’s hard to dispute the notion that the whole momentum of a match can hinge on such a moment. In my opinion, it’s valid point. There’s no way of knowing whether he’s right but it’s a coherent defence of a defeat and a black mark against Mr Lewis.
Meanwhile, last weekend, Simon Hopper was the latest official to feel the weight of the Wednesday manager’s cutting analysis when Wolves profited from a re-taken free-kick to score the only goal against the Owls at Molineux. Bakary Sako’s original effort sailed harmlessly over the crossbar but it proved to be a sighter as he made no mistake second time around.
After the game, Jones summed up the incident thus: “If the referee has told Sako to wait for the whistle, the rules say you get a second chance. But I’m debating whether he was told to wait for the whistle. The actual thing is to put your whistle in the air and we haven’t seen it. None of my players heard him say it and on the video we don’t see him do it.”
Now holding a whistle in the air might only be a minor issue in the overall scheme of things, but we all know how pernickety the football authorities get be about such procedures and one can only assume that Mr Hopper will have his tail between his legs when the matter is raised by his superiors.
You might think all of this is pretty irrelevant, that it’s all just sour grapes on Jones’ part, and it’s pointless creating such a stink over something you can no longer do anything about. But the Dice dealer in me would advise referees to favour Wednesday if they ever find themselves distracted and suffer a bout of uncertainty over a big decision.
If you want an easy life and you don’t want your reputation to be dissected with lawyer-like precision in the following day’s newspapers, then you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of Jones. On which note, I’m going to spend the rest of my afternoon comparing records when referees officiate his matches first time around with results on subsequent occasions…